Canadian Serial Killer Couple Karla Homolka and Paul Bernardo

They preyed on young women, including Homolka's younger sister

Paul Bernardo and Karla Homolka
Family Photo

Karla Homolka, one of Canada's most infamous female serial killers, was released from prison after serving a short 12-year sentence for her involvement in drugging, raping, torturing, and killing young girls. The dead teens included her younger sister, whom Homolka offered to her boyfriend, Paul Bernardo, as a gift. 

Karla was born May 4, 1970, to Dorothy and Karel Homolka in Port Credit, Ontario. She was the oldest child of three, well adjusted, pretty, smart, and popular and received ample love and attention from friends and family. Karla developed a passion for animals and after high school started work at a veterinary clinic. Everything about Karla seemed normal. No one suspected that she was hiding deep psychotic desires.

Homolka and Bernardo Meet

At age 17, Homolka attended a pet convention in Toronto and met 23-year-old Paul Bernardo, an attractive, smart, charmingly persuasive blond. They had sex the day they met. They quickly discovered that they shared sadomasochistic desires. Paul soon moved into the position of master and Homolka willingly took the role of slave.

Over the next few years, their relationship intensified and they shared and encouraged each other's psychotic behavior. Bernardo was raping women with Homolka's approval. The police and media dubbed the perpetrator the Scarborough rapist, after the Ontario town where many of the rapes were committed. His specialty was attacking women getting off buses, raping them anally, and subjecting them to other humiliations.

A Surrogate Virgin

Bernardo constantly complained that Homolka wasn't a virgin when they met. Homolka knew of his attraction to her 15-year-old virgin sister, Tammy, so they decided to force Tammy into being a surrogate virgin for her older sister. To help accomplish this, Homolka stole the anesthetic Halothane from the vet clinic where she worked.

On Dec. 23, 1990, at a Christmas party at the Homolka family home, Bernardo and Homolka served Tammy alcoholic drinks spiked with halcyon. After family members had retired, they took Tammy to the basement and Homolka held a cloth soaked in Halothane to Tammy's mouth. Once Tammy was unconscious, the couple raped her. During the rape, Tammy began choking on her own vomit and ultimately died. The drugs in Tammy's system went undetected and her death was ruled an accident.

Another Present for Bernardo

Homolka and Bernardo moved in together. Bernardo blamed Homolka for Tammy's death and complained that she was no longer around for him to enjoy sexually. Homolka decided a young, pretty, virginal teenager named Jane, who idolized the attractive, older Homolka, would make a good replacement. Homolka invited the unsuspecting teen out to dinner and, as she'd done with Tammy, spiked the girl's drinks, then invited her to their home.

Once there, Homolka administered Halothane and presented her to Bernardo. The couple brutally attacked the unconscious teen, videotaping the sexual assaults. The next day when the teenager awoke, she was sick and sore but had no idea of the violation she had endured. Jane, unlike others, managed to survive the encounter with the couple.

Leslie Mahaffy

Bernardo's thirst to share his rapes with Homolka increased. On June 15, 1991, Bernardo kidnapped Leslie Mahaffy and brought her to their home. Bernardo and Homolka repeatedly raped Mahaffy over several days, videotaping many assaults. They eventually killed her, cut her body into pieces, encased the pieces in cement, and threw them into a lake. On June 29, Mahaffy's remains were found by a couple canoeing on the lake.

Bernardo and Homolka Marry

June 29 was also the day Bernardo and Homolka married in an elaborate wedding at a Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, church. Bernardo had controlled the wedding plans, which included the two riding in a white horse-drawn carriage, Homolka dressed in an expensive white gown. The guests were served a lavish sit-down meal after the couple exchanged their vows, which included, at Bernardo's insistence, Homolka promising to "love, honor, and obey" her new husband.

Kristen French

On April 16, 1992, the couple kidnapped 15-year-old Kristen French from a church parking lot after Homolka lured her to their car, pretending to need directions. The couple brought French to their home and for several days videotaped as they humiliated, tortured, and sexually abused the teen. French fought to survive, but right before the couple left for Easter Sunday dinner with Homolka's family, they killed her. Her body was found April 30 in a ditch in Burlington, Ontario.

Closing In on the Scarborough Rapist

In January 1993, Homolka separated from Bernardo after months of constant physical abuse. His attacks became increasingly ferocious, resulting in Homolka being hospitalized. She moved in with her sister's friend, a police officer.

Evidence against the Scarborough Rapist was building. Witnesses had come forward, and a composite drawing of the suspect was released. A work associate of Bernardo contacted the police, reporting that Bernardo matched the sketch. Police interviewed Bernardo and obtained a saliva swab, which eventually proved Bernardo was the Scarborough Rapist.

The Ontario Green Ribbon Task Force assigned to solving the murders closed in on Bernardo and Homolka. She was fingerprinted and questioned. The detectives were interested in a Mickey Mouse watch Homolka had that looked like one French wore the night she disappeared. Homolka learned during questioning that Bernardo had been identified as the Scarborough Rapist.

Realizing they were about to be caught, Homolka confessed to her uncle that Bernardo was a serial rapist and murderer. She obtained a lawyer and began negotiations for a plea bargain in exchange for her testimony against Bernardo. In mid-February, Bernardo was arrested and charged with the rapes and the murders of Mahaffy and French. During a search of the couple's home, police discovered Bernardo's diary, with written descriptions of each crime.

Controversial Plea Bargain

A plea bargain was discussed that would give Homolka a 12-year sentence for her participation in the crimes in exchange for her testimony. The government agreed to make her eligible for parole after serving three years with good behavior. Homolka agreed to all terms and the deal was set. Later, after all the evidence was in, the plea bargain was referred to as one of the worst in Canadian history.

Homolka had portrayed herself as an abused wife forced into participating in Bernardo's crimes. But when videotapes that Homolka and Bernardo had made were given to police by Bernardo's ex-lawyer, Homolka's involvement in the crimes came to light. Regardless of her apparent guilt, a deal was a deal, and she could not be retried for her crimes.

Paul Bernardo was convicted on all counts of rape and murder and received a life sentence on Sept. 1, 1995. The National Parole Board denied Homolka's application for parole.

Rumors that Homolka's punishment was too lenient surfaced after pictures of her sunbathing and partying with other prisoners were published in Canadian newspapers. Tabloids reported that she was in a lesbian relationship with Lynda Verrouneau, a convicted bank robber.

Homolka's Release

On July 4, 2005, Karla Homolka was released from prison in Ste-Anne-des-Plaines, Quebec. Strict conditions for her release restricted her movements and whom she could contact, including Bernardo and the families of several murdered teens. "She is paralyzed with fear, completely panicked," said Christian Lachance, one of her attorneys. "When I saw her she was in a state of terror, almost in a trance. She cannot conceive of what her life will be like outside."